Christianity has been called a “bloody religion.” Christians have built their faith, after all, on the bloody death of the crucified Jesus. We sing with gusto, “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” And with the apostle Peter we confess that we have been ransomed “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
But it is possible for us to misunderstand the significance of Jesus’ blood and even speak of it in ways that subvert the teaching of Scripture. Roman Catholic doctrine undermines the sufficiency of Christ’s finished work by teaching that his blood is offered repeatedly in a Eucharistic sacrifice. And some Protestants make a similar mistake with the supposition that Jesus continually offers his blood in heaven.
On the other hand, are those who propose that the saving efficacy of Jesus’ blood lies in some mystical or divine quality of the fluid itself, rather than his sacrificial death. This error confuses the human and divine natures of Christ and veers dangerously close to Monophysitism.
Here are three propositions that summarize the teaching of Scripture about the significance of Jesus’ blood and safeguard us from error.
1. The saving efficacy of Jesus’ blood is found in his sacrificial death on the cross.
When we read about the blood of Jesus in Scripture it signifies his violent death on the cross, along with the sacrificial nature of his death. We know his blood signifies death because biblical language described death in terms of shedding blood (cf. Genesis 9:6).
Paul makes the connection between Jesus’ blood and death explicit when he speaks of Christ making peace through “the blood of his cross” and reconciling us to God in “his body of flesh by his death” in Colossians 1:20-22.
But Jesus’ blood is especially connected to the idea of sacrifice. In the midst of a sustained meditation on the relationship between Christ and the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, we read in Hebrews 9:22that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” This highlights the necessity of sacrifice for forgiveness and shows that sacrifice by its very nature involves the shedding of blood. The passage then goes on to show that Christ “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26).
This leads to a second proposition:
2. Jesus’ bloody sacrifice was made once for all in a single offering.
This is also especially clear in Hebrews. Consider this litany of verses:
§ Hebrews 7:27: He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
§ Hebrews 9:11-12: But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.